Missouri News

Jim's Journey marks fifth year of celebrating black history

Cutline: Nikki Bush shares a laugh with Faye Dent and her granddaughter Journey, 2, during the JimÕs Journey fifth anniversary ribbon cutting on Friday, Sep. 22, 2018. The ceremony kicked off a weekend of events at JimÕs Journey: Huck Finn Freedom Center. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 21, 2018 9:10 pm

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Faye Dant, the granddaughter of a former slave, is a Hannibal native who attended the city's segregated Douglass School before she ventured out into the world.

Years later, after Dant returned to her hometown, she attended a "Historic Hannibal" exhibit that included a total of two photographs focusing on the city's black history. Dant knew there had to be more.

"I felt there was a void in Hannibal's history," she said.

So Dant started doing research about the city's African-American heritage and ended up writing an article that was published in the local newspaper.

"I wanted to tell the African-American history," she said. "I wanted to tell a different story."

The article created a buzz, and "folks started donating things" for a local black history exhibit.

One thing led to another, and Dant was tasked with creating the first black history museum in Northeast Missouri.

The result was Jim's Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center, which opened five years ago in a historic stone building at 509 N. Third -- next door to the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau.

On Friday, Dant -- the center's executive director -- welcomed a group of supporters and visitors to a ribbon-cutting ceremony to kick off a weekend celebration marking the center's fifth anniversary.

The celebration will feature a program titled "Freedom Matters" at 2 p.m. Sunday. The program will showcase two of Hannibal's notable African-Americans -- Olympian George Coleman Poage and former U.S. Sen. Blanche Kelso Bruce.

In addition, a new display focusing on Poage, Hannibal's only Olympic medal winner, will be unveiled at the museum. The keynote speaker will be Phil Dixon, an author, historian and a descendant of Bruce -- one of Hannibal's earliest educators. Dixon will share the story of how Bruce, a local pre-Civil War teacher, made history as the first African-American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate from 1874 to 1880.

Dant said she is pleased with how the Freedom Center has evolved over the last five years to become a focal point for local black history.

The center now is a repository for photographs, documents, literature and exhibits that highlight the African-American experience in the Hannibal area, a place where slavery flourished for decades until it was finally snuffed out in the wake of the Civil War, only to be followed by years of segregation and discrimination.

Dant told a crowd at Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony that as the Freedom Center's collection of historic items continues to grow, efforts are under way to reproduce and digitize the center's exhibits so they can be displayed to the world across the internet.

"Ultimately we want to build an online museum," she said. "That's the future."

Her husband, Joel Dant, also appreciates the value of the Freedom Center. He, too, is the grandson of a former slave and is glad to see the museum paying homage to the individuals, families and descendants impacted by that dark era in Missouri's history.

The development of the Freedom Center "has been a great journey," he said.

Joel Dant said the center benefits a great deal from the timeless writings of Mark Twain, who was one of the first white authors in America to write about former slaves as being caring, loving human beings.

"He had to do it by satire and humor," he said. "He was so brilliant."

The name of the museum, Jim's Journey, is based on the character of Jim, an escaped slave who received help fleeing to freedom from another essential Twain character, Huckleberry Finn, who appeared in several of Twain's novels, including "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

Jim and Huck were both fictional characters patterned after real people who lived in the Hannibal area, where Twain grew up.

"Hannibal never talked about Jim," Joel Dant said. "They always talked about Tom and Huck and Becky."

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